I had very much intended to launch Book 3 of the Songbird saga this spring.
As you may have noticed…that didn’t happen. There’s a reason for that, and I’ll tell you why. It has much to do with the title of this BlogPost.
I started work on TOOTH & CLAW while I was still prepping BLOOD TO EARTH for it’s release late last year. At first the writing was going swimmingly. Then it came to a shuddering halt.
I hit kind of a wall with it.
Some of it, admittedly, was burnout. I’d been busy writing HUNTERS and BLOOD TO EARTH and felt like I needed a change of pace. Hence, I switched over to pushing out the first in the Femme Fatales series instead, launching THE SCORCHED SKY this past March.
Writing THE SCORCHED SKY was a lot of fun. Despite sharing some DNA with Songbird (the multi-character structure, and some multiversal connective tissue) it’s a lighter themed book in many ways. If Songbird is my Game of Thrones HBO series, then Femme Fatales is my MCU. One is intended to be a much longer drawn out tale told over seven books. The other is a fun series of self contained Hollywood blockbuster type affairs.
Post launch I moved back to TOOTH & CLAW and made a little headway, only to start bumping back into the same issues as before.
It took a comment by my ‘book-wife’, Nikki, to finally solve the issue.
I don’t recall the exact nature of the conversation, but it had to do with the difference between PLOT and STORY when it comes to writing.
With TOOTH & CLAW I had the former, but was lacking a clear picture of the latter.
Which was a problem.
I’ve talked at length here in other blog posts about my Spreadsheet-of-Doom.
It’s my main source for tracking information and PLOT. That’s it’s purpose. It’s there to help me keep the details of the story straight. Like who said what. When. What injuries a character has. What character traits. Where they should be at any given moment. What names were given to what. Etcetera.
What it doesn’t do, and was never intended to do, is track the story itself.
Story is more than just a plot.
A plot is almost a series of instructions to get you from A to B to C and so forth. Those instructions for your Ikea wardrobe are a plot. Put piece A in hole B and apply glue C, and when you get to the end you’ll have a Wardrobe. But it’s not a story is it?
A story is more involved in the flow of telling the tale of how the wardrobe was built. How did it feel when you screwed it together and pushed it into place. The story is the emotions that you went through. The frustration with the indecipherabel instructions, the exasperation of not finding the right tools, the anger and pain at hitting your thumb with the hammer, and the satisfaction of completing the job.
THAT is the story of putting together your wardrobe.
And currently that is what I’m missing with TOOTH & CLAW.
Let’s quickly take a look at the first two books in the series to see if I can explain what I mean…
HUNTERS was pretty easy to find the story in. Firstly it was an intro to these characters. Secondly, it was about a common trait amongst all the protagonists. They are all ‘hunting’ something, some more literal than others.
Zarra is the most literal hunter as she pursues her bounties. But she also ends up trying to find a way to accept the past and move forwards.
Gayle is looking for purpose, acceptance, and forgiveness. She’s searching for the piece of her she lost.
Lyssa is hunting StormHall in a much more subtle way. Plotting to take him down and put right what she sees as an injustice in the world.
I could go on, but I understood very early on that each character was driven by something they needed. Searching – hunting – for an answer. Once I understood that, the story just flowed easily.
BLOOD TO EARTH is a much more subtle story I think. It’s one that tells the tale of love and moving on from tragedy.
SPOILERS FOR HUNTERS BELOW – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!!!!
The title of BLOOD TO EARTH is based on the Vampyrii funeral ritual, where your blood is literally returned to the Earth from which it came. Vampyrii believe that life was given by Tellus the Earth God, and the soul is given to you by Nocturne, their Goddess of the Night. It represents a cycle of death and rebirth.
Your body and soul returned to where they came from.
When Solista, goddess of the Sun, turned away from Tellus, the Earth god, he and the goddess of the Moon, Nocturne, consummated their secret love and conceived Vampyrii.
Our father, Tellus, summoned the River of Blood, and fashioned for us bodies from the mud of its bed. We were molded, given physical form. Unseeing. Unthinking. Unknowing. As children of their union, we emerged as innocents. These bodies were his gift. Our eyes with which to appreciate his glory. Our legs with which to kneel before him. Our ears with which to behold his wisdom. Our hearts…to give home to our eternal devotion.
As The Twelve crawled from the River, they cast their eyes to the heavens and the diamond stars at the neck of their mother, Nocturne. She, in return, looked benevolently upon them, finding them worthy of her gifts. One by one she placed a diamond in their hearts as she named them, bestowing upon each an aspect of her divine self.
Akhza. She of the Passion.
Haggari. He of the Faithful.
Izzicar. She of the Sea.
Khirion. He of the Land.
Jareb. She of the Confident.
Tarnhem. He of the Sky.
Lucasz. She of the Logic.
Vardan. He of the Courage.
Psyionicella. She of the Imagination
Yaznuma. He of the Strong.
Skarling. She of the Kind.
Balthazaar. He of the Wisdom.
The end of HUNTERS provides death on many fronts and leads to loss for a number of the main characters. What’s more, a number of those deaths leave behind a scar of guilt.
Gayle, Allyson and Carrie lose their father. Lyssa loses Mercy and her sister, Vanessa. BLOOD TO EARTH deals with their sense of loss. It also shows how love can blossom and see you through even your darkest of times.
Again, the story that entwined the plot was very clear to me in BLOOD TO EARTH.
With TOOTH & CLAW, I have written the start, and I’ve written the end. It’s the middle section where the story truly lies that I’m not feeling connected to at the minute. I’m waiting on that epiphany moment that makes it all work. I’m confident it’ll come, but I’m not quite there yet.
Which is why I’ve diverted attention again. Just a little bit.
I’ve been working on this…
KNIGHTINGALE will be my first novella, and it’s a spin off of the Femme Fatales series.
I had planned to do a series of novella’s anyway, based in the gap (10 years) between THE SCORCHED SKY (book 1) and THE BROKEN GROUND (book 2). It’s an idea that gained momentum as I started talking to my friend Steve Vimes, who has a character in the book.
(Long story short: The Femme Fatales books are loosely based on heroes we created in the MMORPG City of Heroes almost two decades ago. Steve’s character, COIN, appeared with his consent in the first book. Steve decided he’d like to write a short origin story for his character, yet set in the universe I’d created. This sounded like an awesome little collaboration, so I decided to do Knightingale at the same time.)
I pulled together a little plot for the book. Basically this…
Gale was just 17 in book 1, so she’ll be 27 in book 2. Over this time she becomes a qualified doctor. This book will tell that story. She’s going to specialise in genetics, specifically in the M-Gene that causes their superpowers. The book will show how she became a doctor, but also pit her against a new arch-nemesis who is selling drugs to kids to give them temporary superpowers. Shenanigans ensue.
That’s the plot.
But the story also IMMEDIATELY fell into place. The more I dipped into it, the more I found the connective tissue. I found connections back to THE SCORCHED SKY. Connections to other characters. I found ways to give Gale a story arc that had emotions and not simply a point A to point B plot.
And that’s the difference.
In TOOTH & CLAW I’m, admittedly, struggling to find the emotional journey for the characters. How does the characters emotional growth change as a result of the journey the plot will put them on. For some of the characters it’s easy. For others…it’s not. And finding that story for each character isn’t a case of dictating, it’s a case of feeling.
I think most writers would agree that the journey of the characters isn’t up to the writer. A character will tell you what their journey will be.
At the moment, the characters and I are talking. We’re coming to terms on what needs to happen. It’s like a negotiation that happens in my head. I tell them what the plot is, and they relay back to me how they feel about it.
Sometimes it can be a little fraught. I can’t change the way they feel, they are who they are. Who I created them to be. On ocassion they might talk me out of something…I’m not George RR Martin after all, but often they just need to put up with where I take the plot.
I guess it’s a little like the difference between working on a TV show and being the actor or the scriptwriter. The actors get to craft the character within the realms of the plots that the writers give them. If the writers decide to write a character out of the show, then the actor may not be happy about it, but if it serves the story then so be it. The same is true here.
Yet at the same time, the scriptwriters are often swayed in where they take a story by the feedback of the actors who play the characters. Sometimes those characters do something you don’t expect.
Typical example was the DC show ARROW.
In the comic books, Green Arrow has always had a romantic relationship with Dinah Lance, the Black Canary. They set these two characters up early in the Arrow TV show. But there was also another character, created for the show. Felicity Smoak.
As the first season of the show unravelled it was pretty clear that there was chemistry between Felicity and Oliver that wasn’t there between Oliver and Dinah. The fanbase fell in love with ‘Olicity‘ as they called it, and from that point forwards the writers of the show leaned into it.
I do the same with my characters.
Zarra, for instance, was supposed to be a kind of throwaway secondary character in HUNTERS, but I ended up really loving her. So do the readers. Zarra got mentioned a fair bit as a high point of the first book.
So I brought her back in book 2 and expanded her role.
And that’s where I am right now. Listening to my characters to see where they want the story to go. Once we’ve worked out the details between us, then I’ll be in a better place to move forwards.
In the meantime, I’ve got Knightingale whispering in my ear…
“Finish my novella…finish my novella…finish my novella…”
So I will.
Love & Books
Scribble Me This